The Bittersweet Experience of International Students

Studying abroad is expensive—not only economically but also spiritually. There are nearly 723,277 international students in the United States, and China represents the largest population with 13,000 students. About 19% of the students at Dana Hall School are international citizens. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, international students contribute more than $21 billion to the U.S. economy through their tuition and living expenses. In addition to the significant cost for a private education in the United States, families also needs to pay for daily expenses and transportation to and from a student’s home country. This can add up to an extremely large sum of money, especially in the case of a high exchange rate between the US and the student’s home country.

Families send their children to Dana Hall School (DH) to enjoy the best teaching resources in the United States, as DH teachers graduate from top universities and fully dedicate themselves to student learning. Technology resources abound at Dana, including iMacs, iPads, laptops and wireless connections. Dorm parents live with international girls in cozy dormitories, helping to care for them while their families are so far away. There is also a club for the International Students Association which offers special help and support to international students.
Although international students live with physical comforts in the Dana community, they are hesitant to share some of the emotional strain they bare. International students are from families of powerful influence in their own countries. Because of the elite family backgrounds, international students not only need to advance their study here in the U.S, but they are also responsible for shouldering their family’s expectations. Students sometimes feel ashamed as they bear the pain of separation from their families, while their families invest so much in their long-distance education.

One day late in September, something rare but not surprising happened in Johnston A, a dormitory for many of the new international students at Dana. In one of the rooms of Johnston A, a girl covered her face with her hands, shivering. The room was warm and full of light, but the girl’s face was contorted by a bittersweet feeling in her heart.

The girl had decorated her dorm room to be a small replica of her real bedroom in her home. Hello Kitty posters hang on her wall next to her pink bedspread, which is embroidered with exquisite flower patterns. The dolls on her bed have detailed facial features and they are all holding each other’s hands. The girl said these dolls were gifts from her family, and she designed them to “hold hands with each other just like a sweet family.” The other side of the girl’s wall is full of the pictures of her family and friends. The girl arranged all the pictures in a shape of a huge heart. In some pictures, the girl was having fun with her friends in parties, clubs and amusement parks. In other pictures, the girl was with her family and their dog, Diesel, at her birthday party at home, or on a vacation in the mountains. But now the girl was shivering with her head down; she tried to stop crying, but she couldn’t stop the choking sound in her throat. The room filled with the girl’s sadness.

The girl wrinkled her brows in concentration and described the source of her grief. Two days ago, her aunt and dog got injured in a car accident and she does not yet know how they are doing. “This is the first year I live and study far away from home, but the Dana community exerts power and warmth to me, so I don’t always feel homesick,” said the girl as she raised her head and looked at all the pictures on her wall. After some time of silence, the girl said that she could not go home now because she had to study; it is hard for her to focus because she does not know how long it will be until they wake up in the hospital. “I hate myself because I can’t help or accompany them in the hospital. I can’t blame anyone else, so I can only blame myself and the distance between me and my home.” The girl blames herself because it had been her decision to study abroad. Now that distance prevents her from being close to the people she loves most in her life.

This is not a unique story; on the contrary, many international students suffer bittersweet feelings when their decisions to become a better person pulls them further away from those they love. Homesickness and nostalgia are eternal struggles for international students.

Dana Hall offers everything it can to support international students, and international parents have heavy expectations of their children as they grow up in American schools: nothing can change the distance, or the sadness and confusion and pressure that international students experience. This is the heavy cost they bear for an advanced education in the United States.

by Luceo Wang

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